Legends - Jonah Lomu

A commentator reduced to gasps because a player’s performance was so awesome. Surely not? Well it’s true, for legend has it that the respected New Zealand commentator Keith Quinn was only able to let out a few gasps rather than any audible comment as the colossal Jonah Lomu ran rough-shod over the England backline in Cape Town in the 1995 World Cup.

It was a semi-final, the England team started with some hope after knocking out Australia the week before. But that hope was quickly extinguished as the England players struggled to halt the momentum of the giant wing. No-one who has followed the game will have not at some stage or other have seen the video of Lomu trampling England fullback Mike Catt en route to one of his tries. It was as if Catt knelt down in front of Lomu to pray rather than attempting to make the tackle.

Those four tries in a semi-final must come close to being the most awesome individual display in a single match in the history of the World Cup. If you consider that Lomu didn’t play in the game against Japan, when the All Blacks ran up a record score, and was replaced before he could score in the 34-9 win over Wales, his achievement of scoring seven tries in four matches at that World Cup was extraordinary. He also crossed for a brace in his first World Cup game against Ireland.

The extent of the Lomu legend can be measured by the fuss South Africans still make over the fact that he never scored a try against the Springboks, and the way the Springboks of that era talk about the snuffing of the Lomu threat as the main step they took towards winning the 1995 final.

One of the most famous quotes about Lomu came from former England captain Will Carling, who was speaking after his hapless team got routed in that aforementioned semi-final: “He is a freak and the sooner he goes away the better”.

While Lomu was the All Black star in the first ever Tri-Nations match (against Australia in Wellington in 1996) he did to some extent conform to Carling’s wish after 1995, with kidney trouble truncating his career, and he was never as effective at Super Rugby level after leaving the Blues, for whom he was in awesome form in the initial years of the regional tournament.

However Lomu did bite England again at the following World Cup, 1999, and it was his super-sized frame that separated England from the All Blacks in a crucial pool game at Twickenham (although the World Cup was hosted by Wales, some of the games were played in England and France). Lomu scored an awesome try to bury any hopes England might have had of an upset victory.

Although the tournament was another massive disappointment for the All Blacks – they were knocked out by France in the semi-final – Lomu retained his legendary status at World Cups by scoring eight tries, which was a stand-alone record until Bryan Habana equaled it in France in 2007. Lomu holds the record for number of tries scored in World Cups (15 over two tournaments).

It was early in the following decade that bad health began plaguing Lomu’s career, so his final flourish with matters relating to World Cups was when he captained the All Blacks to victory in the 2001 Sevens World Cup. Now 36, Lomu played 63 times for New Zealand, scoring 37 tries.